In memoriam: Charlie Nelson

Charlie Nelson

Charles (Charlie) A. Nelson, Fermilab ID 3691, died on Jan. 2, 2019, after a short illness.

Charlie received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from MIT in experimental particle physics. He began working at Fermilab in 1976 on experiment E272 as a senior research fellow from the University of Rochester.

He was hired by Fermilab two years later on Sept. 5, 1978, as an applied scientist to work on the development of new ADC modules that were being developed in the “new” CAMAC format. He worked on several fixed-target experiments at Fermilab early in his career, including E272 and E706.

In 1982 he joined the Particle Instrumentation Group (the “PIG” group) to develop front-end instrumentation for CDF, the first colliding beam experiment at the lab using the brand-new Tevatron.  Charlie was the lead designer of several of the front-end electronic systems in the experiment, for Run 0 and for the upgrades for Run 1 and Run 2.

He later worked on the development of electronics for other experiments, including the Dark Energy Survey, the MINOS neutrino experiment and CMS.

While a physicist by training, Charlie became an expert at analog circuit design, able to bridge the gap between the two professions. He explained why: “Physicists wanted detectors to do everything, and not being engineers, they would always insist that new electronics be able to do much more than was really necessary. The engineers, not being physicists, would then have a hard time understanding what the performance priorities were. I wanted to see both sides.”

Charlie retired from the lab in May 2005. He married Karen Rainville in March 2004, in a lovely wedding in Hawaii. They settled in Texas after Charlie’s retirement. Together they built a fine home, their “Bella Luna,” a Georgian style home large enough to provide for their furry girls: Isabella and Gabriella, who are chocolate labrador sisters, and Amelia, who, Charlie maintained, was really a Welsh sheepdog. They enjoyed classical music and had season memberships for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Charlie and Karen loved to travel, visiting more than 30 countries together. Charlie will be remembered for his keen intellect, his deep knowledge of the “mystical” analog arts, and his wonderful sense of humor.

A celebration of his life will be held at his home in Terrell, Texas, on March 31. Please send condolences or any special recollections to: Karen Rainville, 170 Brushy Creek Lane, Terrell TX 75160. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Charlie’s favorite charities: (1) the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, attn: Tony Miller, “Charles Nelson Memorial Fund for Young Strings Program,” 2301 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201; or (2) ASPCA Charlie Nelson Memorial Fund, at